The Chicago Years

The legendary Quinton Joseph was born on 28th August 1946 in the city of Chicago, affectionately known as the “Windy City”. He is one of the few studio musicians during the golden era of R&B and Soul music to have played on hit records from two different cities, with distinct signature sounds between the 1960s and the 1980s. The two cities were Chicago, where Joseph started out, and Philadelphia, where he went at the invitation of Gamble and Huff.

According to Ed Hogan of ALL Music, “Joseph absorbed a myriad of musical influences while growing up in his multi-cultural neighbourhood. As a child, he would beat out rhythms on cereal boxes and garbage cans. At about the age of ten his mother brought him a drum set to further develop his craft and techniques as a drummer while feasting on the Windy City’s rich musical diversity.”

In his local neighbourhood he got involved with two future in-demand session musicians who also made a name for themselves in the music industry in Chicago. These men, guitarist Danny Reed and bassist Bernard Reed, became very close friends of Joseph. As a close unit they began playing for singer/songwriter Billy Butler, who was the brother of the legendary Jerry Butler (known as the “Ice Man”). This led to the opportunity to work on the road with the The Artistics, from the Chicago branch of the once-mighty New York city Brunswick Records, best known for their Chicago soul classic hit of 1966 “I’m Gonna Miss You”,  that sold almost a million copies in North America. With this success under their belt, they began to develop a reputation for being extremely tight which helped them become a much in-demand rhythm section, and their session work schedule increased tremendously, as they started to support various local recording acts such as Jackie Wilson, The Chi-Lites, Major Lance, Gene Chandler and Tyrone Davis.

The first million-selling record that Joseph played on was Barbara Acklin’s gold single “Love Makes a Woman” released in 1968 on Brunswick Records. The following year , he played on Tyrone Davis’  first gold single of his career entitled “Can I Change My Mind” which peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart on the 1st February 1969 ( 2 weeks ), preceded by “I Heard It the Grapevine” performed by the late Marvin Gaye. He repeated the same success with Davis on his second chart-topping single “Turn Back the Hands of Time”, Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart number one on the 2nd May 1970 ( 2 weeks ) which peaked at  number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart and became a million-selling single in the process. He also played on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart number one single “Turning Point”, 7th February 1976 (1week).

During his time as a studio musician at Brunswick Records, Joseph found time to participate in recording sessions at Curtom Records, also located in the “Windy City”. He is featured on all the gold-certified soundtracks produced by the late Curtis Mayfield which include the Billboard Pop Hot 200 Albums and Billboard Top Soul Albums Chart number-one album “Super Fly”, which generated over $20 million for the music industry in North America.

While he was working with both Brunswick and Curtom Records, he also played on Natalie Cole’s three gold and platinum-certified albums produced in Chicago at Universal Recording Studios and Curtom Recording Studios (owned by Curtis Mayfield). These albums were “Inseparable” “Natalie”, and “Unpredictable”.  These three albums grossed approximately $15 million during the mid-1970s for the now-defunct Capitol Records, with both “Inseparable (1975) and “Unpredictable” (1977) topping the Billboard Top Soul Albums Chart.

In 1976 Joseph played drums along with Phil Upchurch on two chart-topping singles on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart in succession: “Turning Point”, performed by Tyrone Davis and “Inseparable”, performed by Natalie Cole. Following the success of these two singles, he also played on one final chart-topping single from Cole’s “Natalie” album, entitled “Sophisticated Lady (She’s A Different Lady)”, 19th June 1976 (1 week).

Joseph played on seven gold singles and several singles that were almost million sellers, all originally recorded at recording studios within the City of Chicago from 1968 to 1976. The single “Turning Point”, performed by the late Tyrone Davis, was the final number one song for Brunswick Records that featured Quinton Joseph on drums.

The Philadelphia Years

 While Joseph was on tour during the late 1970s, a singer friend invited him to play on a session for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. This led to him becoming a member of the PIR studio session band at Sigma Sounds Studios, after demonstrating his excellent signature drumming techniques to Gamble and Huff and other producers, arrangers and songwriters employed on staff by the label.

Joseph first success was with the O’ Jays on their multi-platinum album “So Full Of Love”, recorded in 1978, which featured the million-selling single “Use Ta Be My Girl”, that topped the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart on 27th May 1978 (5 weeks), which was produced jointly by Gamble and Huff with arrangement conducted by the late Jack Faith.

This was quickly followed by another chart-topping performance with the late Teddy Pendergrass on the gold-certified single “Close The Door”, which was number-one on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles Chart week-ending  8th July 1978 ( 2 weeks ), also co-produced by Gamble and Huff and with excellent arrangements by Thom Bell.

Both related albums, Pendergrass’  “Life Is a Song Worth Singing” and the O’ Jays’ “So Full of Love”, sold over 2 million copies each and also peaked at number one in 1978 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums Chart, with “So Full Of Love” at number one week-ending 3rd June 1978 (3 weeks) and “Life Is a Song Worth Singing” at number one week-ending 12th August 1978 (2 weeks).

Joseph played drums on another million-selling track released in 1979, co-produced by Gamble and Huff for the Jones Girls, called “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else”.

As executive producers both Gamble and Huff allowed Joseph to collaborate with Dexter Wansel on another classic track on Pendergrass’ “TP”, a multi-platinum album released in 1980.

The track is entitled “Love TKO”, which was co-produced by Cecil Womack (co-author of the track with his wife Linda Womack and Cecil Womack, brother of the late Bobby Womack), Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs. Joseph also contributed his drumming techniques to the second track on the A-side on “Take Me In Your Arms Tonight”, featuring Stephanie Mills performing with Pendergrass. On the first track on the B-side of the album he played drums on “Quite Storm”, one of the most requested Soul and R&B songs on radio, and “Feel The Fire”, also performed by Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills.

He was the first African-American drummer to achieve such a feat in music history, playing drums on four multi-platinum albums in succession. He went on to play drums on the last Gamble and Huff-produced number one single for the O’ Jays before they parted from PIR (Philadelphia International Records) in 1987. The chart-topping single was “Lovin’ You”, which peaked at number-one week-ending 7th November 1987 (1 week) on the Billboard R&B/Hop-Hip Singles Chart.

“Let Me Touch You”, the album that actually features “Lovin’ You”, peaked at number three on the Billboard R&B/Hop-Hip Albums Chart in 1987. It was the last big-selling album by the O’ Jays before they departured from the label.

Another significant album that Quinton Joseph played on as drummer was “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”, released on PIR gospel subsidiary Peace International Records, performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama, which was re-released on The Right Stuff/Philadelphia International, a Capitol/EMI imprint, on CD in June 2004, due to high demand by the group’s fan base around the world.

Quinton Joseph is not well-known but his achievements are outstanding.

Photo: Aliane Schwartzhaupt on Unsplash